“What’s the big deal?”
I had a crush on this boy named Kamal in the fifth grade. We lived in Smalltown Washington and it was 1989. He is African American and I am Caucasian. When the kids on the playground began to find out that I liked him they started to talk, especially these two African American girls. They would say things to me like “you’ve got jungle fever”. I had no idea at the time what this meant, and didn’t understand what the big deal was. They would tell me to stay away from their guys and find someone of my own kind. It wasn’t as though I was going to date Kamal or anything. I just thought he was cute. I was tired of being teased and decided to stay away from Kamal. These girls made me feel very uncomfortable and unsure of my self, which eventually led me to wonder why they were so against me liking someone outside of my own race. These girls had always been nice to me until they heard I liked him, and now they hated me.
Looking back now I start to remember the times when I would see Kamal playing basketball at recess, I would get these butterflies in my stomach. He was so cute and was really good at basketball. The tetherball court was right next to the basketball courts, so I’d get to see him play when I was in line. I guess I also got a rush from seeing him see me playing too. I loved to play tetherball, and was pretty good at it if I do say so myself. My girlfriends and I would get together and meet at the tetherball court to play. The lines were always long, so we would try to be the first ones out there. I usually won, which meant that I rarely had to get back into line. You only had to get back in line when you lost. The one girl I always lost to was one of the girls from class who teased me about Kamal. She was a lot taller than I was, so it was easier for her to hit the ball. She loved to beat me, and hated it when she lost to me. I guess I didn’t notice the competition this girl had with me until I started to like Kamal. Looking back I feel she and the other girl always had something against me, and I only gave them ammo to do something about it when I started liking him.
I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be in these girls’ shoes. So in my own words this is what I figured they might have been feeling towards me and the situation.
Erynn was somewhat quiet but very nice to us. We played tetherball on the playground and had mutual friends. After a while we found out she had a crush on this boy Kamal. He was someone that all the girls liked, but he was black and she was white. We both are black girls and didn’t understand why she couldn’t like someone of her own color. We began to make fun of EL, telling her she had “jungle fever” (a white person liking a non-white person). Then we found out that Kamal liked her too, this made us very mad. Being proud African American girls, it was hard to understand why he would like her and not one of us. EL also had many other boys’ of her same race who liked her, but she seemed to pay no attention to them. Finally after a while she seemed uninterested in him. I don’t know if it was because of all the teasing, but she didn’t seem to want to hang out with any of us anymore. He also stopped hanging out with her, we think he might have felt intimidated by the comments we would make to him for liking her. I guess we always held a grudge towards her for liking Kamal. I just wonder if we hadn’t had a crush on him ourselves, if we would have had the same reaction. It just seems to me that you should stick with your own “kind”. We rarely spoke in middle school either, maybe because EL also held a grudge towards us for making fun of her. However, our making fun of her in the past didn’t stop her in the future from making friends or dating other guys from different races.
I think this episode still sticks with me, because it was the first time I had been personally affected by racial discrimination. Not understanding what was the big deal with liking someone outside of my race had never occurred to me. I had never thought of someone who was racially different than I was as “different”. I had treated all of my friends the same. After the incident I started to look outside of my own viewpoint and realized that not everybody is the same, and that race does exist whether we care to recognize it or not. Comparing myself to the girls who taunted me made me realize that we are not all brought up with the same viewpoints. Not everyone is taught to love thy neighbor. They may love thy neighbor, but they sure as hell don’t treat them the same.
I encountered such incidents as this later in life, not only personally but through friends of mine. Some people feel that it’s more natural to stay with their own race. I did not let this incident steer me away from dating or befriending people of different races. I have always had friends outside of my own race, and do not plan on ever changing that. I am however more conscious about people’s feelings and viewpoints about interracial relationships. I try not to judge those who differ from my opinions but more or less try to understand theirs. People find love in many ways, and with many different people. I do not judge those who love outside of their own culture or race, I try to instead embrace the fact that they have made it work in such a judgmental, ignorant world.
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